Friday, January 25, 2008

Writing at Over 100 Degrees


One of the unexpected advantages I’ve discovered working out of my apartment is that I seem to get sick much less than when I in an office.

While I’d like to think that my improved health has to do with the relative cleanliness of my home versus the squalid, rat-infested, diseased working conditions of corporate America , I know this is not true. My corporate office used to have daily maid service, and now I’m lucky if I get a dust buster under my desk once a month.

Instead, I think the main reason I have been healthier is simply because I don’t see that many people anymore… and therefore have less opportunities to catch YOUR cold.

Take these last holidays for example. When you were blowing your nose and coughing out your lungs at the obligatory company holiday party, I was avoiding you while kicking back at home drinking grape soda and watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre II.

I didn’t go to any miserable Christmas parties. Nor was I forced to drag myself into work with a 102 degree fever and prop myself up in a cubicle to avoid using precious vacation days from my paltry “paid time off bank.”

Yes, I know what it’s like to do such things. I’ve been there, and if you’re still there, I truly pity you and encourage you to rebel, violently if necessary.

In the past, I spent countless winter holidays sick in bed from colds I caught from coworkers. But this year I spent Christmas and New Years smiling without so much as a sniffle.

And then… somehow… the unthinkable occurred.

I caught your damn cold.

The cold you got from your kids. The cold you picked up at the mall. The cold I thought I had escaped by virtue of my isolated, antisocial, hermetic lifestyle.

Somehow your damn virus penetrated my germ-free fortress apartment and lodged itself deep in my lungs and colored my last two weeks in shades of phlegm.

Then your sickness entered my brain. And that’s when things got really weird.

It forced me to do things that I don’t normally do.

Like pray.

Whatever you do, don’t tell my atheist father. But I asked God to get me out this misery.

And then I wrote.

Not screenplays.

Not short stories.

Not blogs.

I wrote cook book reviews.

Late one night, during the peak of my fever, I inexplicably pulled various cook books off my book shelves and manically wrote reviews of them.


Damn if I can tell you for sure since the night is a hazy with Nyquil. But I seem to remember I was clicking around Amazon and reading some of those “reader submitted reviews” and wondering if they were penned by real people or just shills of the publishers or the sneaky authors themselves.

So I decided to write one and stress test the system.

And then another.

And then another.

In the peak of my fever, I realized the culinary arts are my true calling. They are quicker to write than screenplays and people are actually interested in reading them. Amazon thanks you every time you write one. No one thanks you for writing a screenplay.

That night I penned five cook book reviews. If you want, you can read my stunning review of The Alcatraz Womens Club Cook Book.

So now I say forget this screenwriting bullshit. I have thirty more cook books waiting for review on my shelf. And I’m sure I can get more. Lots more. Thirty reviews a month sounds reasonable. Do you realize that some Amazon reviewers have literally thousands of reviews to their credit?

A new career has taken shape for myself. And all because of the cold that escaped your cubicle. It won’t be long before publishers are sending me cook books in the mail and begging me to please try their delicious recipes and write glowing recommendations for all to enjoy.

The only problem is I’m not really all that hungry. I’m still a bit sick, you see. I’m feverish and medicated. I don’t feel like eating. In fact, I want to puke.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Long Live Shiva Destructive Mode


At the Screenwriting Expo I attended a seminar by Cynthia Whitcomb, an accomplished screenwriter with a long list of credits who had some unique things to say about writing.

I’ve read a lot of screenwriting books and listened to a lot of gurus and I can’t say too many of them are unique. They all seem to say the same thing in different way and most involve counting pages to make sure event x happens at point y and then audiences wonder why movies are so formulaic.

Cynthia said some things at the Expo that I haven’t heard before. In particular, I was struck by her notion of the Cycles of Creativity, especially since it’s helping me justify not writing much of anything for the last four weeks.

The Cycles are:

Brahma: the idea mode; reflected in your initial excitement at discovering a new idea, when energy and motivation seem limitless, symbolized by the Hindu god Brahma.

Vishnu: the work mode; where the glow from the lightning strike of Brahma dissipates and you are forced to do the actual work; symbolized by the Hindu god Vishnu.

Shiva: the destructive mode; where after the work is done, you [should] stop working and put your brain on neutral for a period of time to recover and recharge and clear the slate for the next lightning strike; symbolized by the Hindu god Shiva.

Cynthia believes that creativity exists in this three part cycle but most writers struggle against this natural process. Some writers exist only in Brahma, addicted to ideas but never completing the work, while the majority repeat the first two phases endlessly without taking a break. Shiva, she explains, is an important component of the writing process despite what your parents, Protestant work ethic, and former writing teachers have told you.

According to Whitcomb's system, I’ve been in Shiva for about two weeks now.

Building shelves. Feeding ducks. Moving furniture. Transferring videos to DVD. Avoiding both lightning strikes and work.

And feeling guilty, yes. I keep telling myself I should be writing (does this blog count?), but damn if some Shiva doesn’t feel good.

And necessary.

Immediately before going into Shiva mode I was actively building multiple websites, writing multiple screenplay treatments, and discussing new writing and film projects with prospective collaborators on a daily basis... and starting to feel pretty tanked.

Then suddenly everyone around me disappeared for the holidays, leaving me at home with my hands still filled with projects and wondering if others knew something I didn’t. Finally I shut down my brain and drove out to the desert and stared at bubbling mud volcanoes and sand dunes for several days.

My batteries have now charged. Partially. I got a late start this holiday season. Plus holidays aren’t particularly relaxing. Especially Christmas. Buying stuff. Catching colds. Haggling with Post Office clerks. I’d really like to continue this Shiva mode thing for another week or two or three or…

You can read Cynthia’s article on her website.